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50 years of Tanglin Shopping Centre

After four attempts, Tanglin Shopping Centre has finally been sold for $868 million to Singapore-based developer Pacific Eagle Real Estate.

The clock is ticking on the 50-year-old commercial complex along Tanglin Road.


Tanglin Shopping Centre comprises a six-storey podium block, a 12-storey tower block rising six storeys above the podium block, and a car park occupying an eight-storey annex.


Basement 2 to the sixth storey are occupied by retail and office units, while the top six floors of the tower block are entirely office units.


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The concept of the multi-storey, air-conditioned shopping complex as a one-stop shopping destination came about in Singapore a couple of years after its independence from Malaysia in 1965.


At the time, Singapore was still trying to find its feet as an independent city-state; it was industrialising and modernising, and trying to shed the old for the new. Singaporeans were still used to shopping at shophouses and markets.


As urban renewal started to sweep through the old City, developers started pouring millions into building shopping complexes.


Newspaper advertisements for Tanglin Shopping Centre started appearing in 1969, and the podium block was completed by developer S. K. Chee by January 1972, at a cost of $7.5 million. It was the first of its kind along the Tanglin Road-Orchard Road shopping belt.

A 1969 Straits Times ad for a position in Tanglin Shopping Centre. Credit: SPH Media Trust.

A 1970 Straits Times ad, with the shopping complex’s original logo. Credit: SPH Media Trust.

Nearing completion in October 1971. Credit: SPH Media Trust.

Other shopping complexes completed around the same time included Peninsula Shopping Centre at Coleman Street, and Specialist Centre at Orchard Road (demolished in 2008).


Shortly before its opening, in September 1971, the New Nation discussed the new phenomenon of the shopping complex:

Credit: SPH Media Trust.

There is uncertainty over whether Singapore will soon have too many shopping arcades and complexes.


Developers generally say there is need for more shopping complexes but they seem unsure how long this need will last.


There are six shopping complexes in full operation, four more being readied for customers, three others being planned, and more are on the drawing board…


Developers I spoke to have the same straight-faced confidence they had when the complex concept first took root in 1967. Singapore, they say, seems to be overbuilding everything, but not shopping complexes and arcades…


“Shopping complexes will change the shopping habits of Singaporeans,” said Mr. T. M. Goh, whose Golden Mile Shopping Centre will open early next year. “Instead of browsing from rows and rows of shops and hopping across the roads to get what you want, you can get everything under one roof in a complex.


“Complexes are the thing of the future. Shop rows will have to go. The new concept in shopping is more convenient and comfortable, with easy parking and modern facilities. Customers don’t mind paying a little more for all this.”


Tanglin Shopping Centre got off to a roaring start, with 150 shops and kiosks occupying almost all available commercial space. German airline Lufthansa paid a cool $1.2 million for 5,000 square feet of office space on the ground and second floors (below). Occupancy rates remained near 100 per cent in the first few years.

Credit: SPH Media Trust.

This initial success prompted S. K. Chee to commence Phase II of construction - the tower block was completed around 1980. A circular concourse was added in the basement for exhibitions and campaigns, to be surrounded by antique shops. One of the antique shops was Antiques of the Orient, founded by Michael J. Sweet and Julie Yeo. It later moved to a larger space on the second floor.

Mr Sweet with antique paintings in Antiques of the Orient, in 1981. Credit: SPH Media Trust.

And Tanglin Shopping Centre stood for another four decades.


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I visited Tanglin Shopping Centre to see how it was faring.


The facade facing east.

The same view 51 years ago, in 1971, as the complex was nearing completion. This was before the tower block came up.

Credit: SPH Media Trust.

The architecture of the building exposed Basement Level 1 to the outside, which was a nice touch.


The foyer, where taxis and private-hire vehicles dropped off and picked up fares.

The main entrance at the podium block, which was rather small.

Level 1, raised about half a storey above ground level. There were several carpet shops here.

The interior looked dated and tired, and many shops were shuttered or empty. The mall had clearly seen better days.




The second floor.

I had the whole place to myself, and this was a Sunday afternoon.


I searched for Antiques of the Orient, and the floor directory listed it as occupying Units 39 and 40, but they were empty. The shop, like so many others, had left the mall.

The upper floors of the podium block.

The ground-floor lift lobby of the tower block. The tower block was equally quiet, and I took the lift to every floor to look around. No one stopped me.



The 10th floor.

The circular concourse at Basement Level 1 of the tower block.

The same location in 1981. Tzen Gallery has survived to the present...

... but again, most of the surrounding tenants have moved out.

A final look at Tanglin Shopping Centre before I left.


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